Matthew Logan Vasquez is feeling optimistic. That’s not necessarily apparent the first time you spin his debut full-length solo album. Each track on Vasquez's Does What He Wants (2017) feels urgent and intense. Impatient landlords, financial woes, and other frustrations fan the agitation embedded in the opening track, “Same.” Isolation darkens the brooding images of “From Behind The Glass.” Death takes a bow on “The Fighter.” Vasquez can’t help but juxtapose the celebration of “Fatherhood” with a lament that “we ain’t got the money to pay the hospital.”
The music enhances this impression. As fans of his work with Delta Spirit and Middle Brother know well, Vasquez knows how to fuse passion and poetry in his writing and then ignite this volatile mix with extraordinarily expressive singing. In this sense he stands as a peer and a worthy successor to those who influenced him as an up-and-coming artist — Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed and others often mentioned, none of them known for their upbeat, sunny lyrics. “My point is that life is a struggle,” Vasquez continues. “But how can you have optimism and hope if you don’t have something negative? Context is what makes it meaningful.”
For Vasquez, context involves drawing from dramatically different settings. Growing up in Austin Texas and along the California coast, hunkering down for years in Brooklyn as he finessed his music in a more pressurized urban context and then heading back to Austin to put all the pieces together, he took note of the differences and similarities these places offered. During much of that time he channeled his experiences into Delta Spirit, whose albums inspired critics to laud the band as “restless and defiant” (Paste), its music infused by “waves of measured ferocity” (Uncut) and “significant depth” (Austin Chronicle).
To keep his path clear and work on his own terms, Vasquez built a studio in his home for this past year — a trailer parked about an hour west of Austin. Here, in Texas Hill Country, surrounded by evergreen oak trees, he wrote and recorded basic tracks and then brought in singer Kam Franklin from The Suffers, Shakey Graves drummer Christopher Booshada and Jud Johnson of A. Sinclair to add parts as needed. For backup vocals and string parts, he worked long-distance via sound files with the Parkington Sisters, who he performed with during a Middle Brother set at last year’s Newport Folk Festival. “They performed a miracle, giving me a 3-D depth that makes the tracks they appear on jump out of the speakers,” he insists.
In final form, Does What He Wants is like a hall of mirrors, each capturing a different image of one self-aware and restlessly creative individual. This music is diverse yet unified, which of course was a priority for its author. And, in the end, it turns out to feel pretty optimistic after all — a perfect statement for these times and possibly for some time to come.